Arianna Huffington Storms NYC With New Book, Skewering McCain as a 'Pandering Pawn of the Right'
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With the timing that PR people drool over, Arianna Huffington hit New York City in a mad dash of media attention and activities this past Friday to promote her new book with the mouthful of a title: Right is Wrong -- How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, Shredded the Constitution, and Made Us All Less Safe (And What You Need to Know to End the Madness).
Just as Huffington was arriving in New York, she revealed -- on her blog, of course -- that John McCain bashed George Bush something nasty at a dinner party in L.A. in 2000. And that night McCain went so far as to insist that he didn't vote for the Bush Leaguer in that election. The New York Times and other media ran with the story, and it was a marvel to watch as Huffington, always multitasking, handled the press on McCain while effortlessly hammering away on the themes of her book. With the book's last chapter titled: "John McCain, Hijacked by the Right," it all made for a nice, neat package.
As Huffington traversed the storm-whipped Manhattan -- one of those nasty urban days where wind and rain snarled traffic and made empty cabs a rarity, twisted umbrellas into awkward shapes, and generally made life damp, wrinkled and miserable -- she stayed dry and laughingly suggested that it was a good tactic to have McCain repeating over and over how he voted for and supports George Bush, since Bush's approval numbers were in the basement (under 30 percent).
Early in Huffington's N.Y. day were appearances on Air America Radio and on Laura Flander's pioneering new daily multimedia TV/Web show, called Grit TV. I joined Flanders for a feisty give and take with Huffington, focused both on McCain and one of the fundamental themes of her book: "How the corporate media has become the right wing's best friend." Watch the video in the window to your right.
Flanders, a persistently under-utilized media talent, is trying something altogether different with a national TV magazine show on Free Speech TV. (The show airs on satellite. It also has a daily presence with streaming video on the creative blog FireDogLake, where former Hollywood producer Jane Hamsher and team are building a powerful presence by embracing activism and creative media strategies.)
In our interview with Flanders, Huffington hammered away at the corporate media for enabling the worst right-wing habits and at the Democrats for needing a spine implant. Meet the Press 's Tim Russert got eviscerated for being a zombie of conventional wisdom and rerunning, over and over, ideas that have been consistently and widely discredited by journalists and experts.
In terms of Bill Kristol, the New York Times' new columnist whose record on Iraq is beyond horrible, she asks the question: "How wrong do you have to be to get kicked out of the media? I kiddingly said that Kristol should be sent to GuantÃ¡namo for his war crimes, but Arianna, ever on message, said, "No, we should close Gitmo down."
Huffington's public festivities on Friday ended at a book party at the Chambers Hotel, one of those new, stylish boutique models that have sprouted up as NYC hotel prices have gone the way of oil ($400-$500 a night for a room has become the norm). The party was hosted by Huffington gal pal and star author Kathy Freston, her husband Tom, former head honcho at MTV and CEO of Viacom, and Jann Wenner, Rolling Stone mag owner and his partner Matt Nye. The hotel offered a signature Blood Orange Cosmo that had more than a few party goers feeling a little tipsy.
In his intro remarks, Tom Freston drew a laugh from the crowd when he mentioned that top McCain aid Mark Salter, obviously trying to deflect from the brouhaha stirred up by the Huffington revelation about McCain not voting for Bush, had said that Huffington was a "flake and a poser, and an attention-seeking diva." Of course most in the room knew damn well that the McCain camp had gravely underestimated the clout and energy that Huffington packs, not to mention the smarts and creative messaging that she employs.
Huffington is arguably the most influential progressive on the media scene (ironic, given her roots as a rehabilitated Republican) -- perhaps not among core progressive loyalists, but certainly in terms of her ability to take progressive messages, facts and figures and use the media to reach audiences outside of the progressive base. One of the reasons Huffington is so important is that both she, and the powerhouse Huffington Post that she has been instrumental in creating, are 24/7 media players, constantly pushing back against right-wing disinformation and the corporate media's increasing penchant for promoting right-wing talking points.
The political battle is constant, and Huffington and Huff Po. , operating at a high level of messaging and thinking, are persistently pushing back against the huge and highly funded corporate, conservative media empire, which includes Fox News, the Wall Street Journal , most of the top 20 radio talk shows, and much more. Huffington Post â€™s pushback capacity is incredibly important. Many progressive media players and funders don't fully grasp how much of the media battle requires swift and powerful response in order to hold the line against conservatives.
It is only in the last few years that there has been an effective and muscular pushback capacity against the right-wing noise machine -- and it is through Huffington, joined by MoveOn, the progressive blogosphere, Media Matters, Robert Greenwald's Brave New Films, Think Progress and a core of crack journalists like Mother Jones' David Corn, Salon's Glenn Greenwald, the blogger columnist David Sirota, and others, that we have gained traction in the hand-to-hand combat that has become the battle for America's hearts and minds. And there is no mistaking it. Arianna Huffington sits at the top of the this potent new capacity.
Don Hazen is the executive editor of AlterNet.